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Thread: You call this a city? You call this a suburb?

  1. #1

    You call this a city? You call this a suburb?

    For a forthcoming national magazine article (for an issue on the "state of suburbia"), I am researching the phenomenon of the blurring lines between suburban and urban regions. The distinction has always been fraught with some ambiguity -- and explored in works ranging from Edge Cities to Postsuburban California -- but recently there seems to be a kind of spatial-societal displacement whereby some suburbs are exhibiting qualities of cities and vice versa. In the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights, for example, the built-out municipality is seeing the construction of urban-like high-rise building; in Chicago, meanwhile, the strip-mall form is enjoying something of a heydey. In Atlanta, residents report not knowing where the city begins or ends. Nationally, crime is down in urban regions while it is rising in suburban regions. Big-box retail is appearing in cities while struggling 70s-era malls are converted in urban-like "town square" developments. Sprawl is now affecting other suburbs more than central cities. I wonder if list participants might have any compelling examples of such reversals, or any thoughts on why some of these changes are occuring, or the future of the urban-suburban bifurcation.

    Many thanks,

    Tom Vanderbilt

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Plus
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    you call this a city? you call this a suburb?

    Tom,

    I have read much about the blurring lines between city and suburb and find it very interesting. I have experienced both sides of that line. As a die-hard urbanite from the East Coast who is stuck living in sprawling L.A., I can say, without a doubt, that it is better to be clearly on one side or the other rather than stuck in the middle of a "non-place" (e.g., L.A.), if you will. Here's an thought, do you think that many of the typical suburban households (i.e., dual-income, no kids) that are being lured into the "hipness" of urban areas are bringing a little bit of what they are used to with them. Developers see this changing demographic and, therefore, are beginning to cater to these relocated surburbanites. This scenario can flipped as well.

    By the way, I would love to read your article. What magazine will it be (or was it) in?

  3. #3

    you call this a city? you call this a suburb?

    I think that both trends have to do with the renaissance of downtowns. People are finally realizing that there is more to quality of life than having an obsenely-large home surrounded by (but well separated from) nothing but other obsenely-large homes. As a result, many suburbanites are moving back to the city, yet demanding some of the suburban comforts, while other suburbanites are trying to give their communities the character and identity that they never had (or have long since lost).

    The other factor is that companies are starting to recognize the benefits of being in the downtown. This is due in part to the return of the suburbanites to the city, and due in part to a need for companies to find new territories. Additionally, people seem to be demanding more from businesses these days -- those who are disillusioned with the big box are demanding stores and service of higher quality. Successful companies must find ways to make their stores unique, and, having rediscovered their creativity, they are able to figure out how to find success in urban markets that once stymied them. And as more and more companies return to the city and are successful, others will take note and follow them in.

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